Five years ago today, I dipped my toes into the world of minigolf. This was supposed to be one of those fleeting glimpses into a drunken idea which would just be another day in my life. At this stage of life, I had been single for five months and was looking for a different challenge. The story goes back a couple of months on a night out in Brighton with my friend, Jess. It was on the way home whilst on the train that randomly flicking through Facebook that would change my perception on what my social life should be. By the following morning, I had entered a tournament at my local course in Worthing and even convinced a mate to take part. At this point, this was only ever going to be a one off. Over the next six weeks, we would wake up early on a Sunday to sneak on for practice. We almost thought we were taking the whole event seriously.
As it got closer, the entry lost grew and I did some research into who was playing from the BMGA website. Eight of the top ten were taking part. ‘How good can they be’, I foolishly said. I imagine, at this point, most people approaching their debut, would have had these thoughts. The day arrived. Due to our practice regime of bunking the course, some of the obstacles weren’t out so on the morning of the tournament, myself and Steve Ragless tried to cram in what we could. And then, it happened. We went minigolfing. I remember so much. My partners for the first two rounds were Michael Smith, the then WCGC champion and Dave Gomm. I figured that I would try and play what I had practiced but sit back and watch. After four holes, I was ahead of both of them. From then on, I got schooled. Minigolf is easy if you know what you’re doing and after fifteen minutes, I was nowhere near good enough. By the end of the first couple of rounds, I was made to feel very welcome and the whole day with giving off a strange kind of buzz. Two more rounds and it was all done. We were now minigolfers. It didn’t matter that first prize was £60. What really mattered is that myself and Steve went off to the pub. Oh, and we really enjoyed it.
I didn’t play again for six months but kept my oar in. I bought a set of balls off Praggers, which he would later claim where illegal. I got on with learning about minigolf, working on the differences between minigolf and putting on a green. At the time of starting, I was a self employed DJ so tournaments were rare but I made time where I could, booking myself a weekend off for the World Crazy Golf Championships. That event was insane. Putting in a storm, tat challenges, air hockey and the never to be forgotten Monkish gig. From then on, I was hooked in. I started to care less about my business, I wasn’t enjoying the lifestyle, and slowly, minigolf started to crawl under my skin. The characters which the sport attracted made for a human cocktail and with the majority of my friends either married, partnered or with children, I saw a great opportunity to make some more pals.
By the end of 2014, I had folded my business and moved north to Cambridgeshire, working in agriculture. This gave me a freedom to take part in everything, even an abandoned club championships in the middle of a house move. As I started climbing the rankings, I found I could possibly and tick off a life box from when I was eleven. I always wanted to be good enough at a sport that I would play for my country. In June 2015, I made the Great Britain squad for the WAGM in Hastings. It was a chance to see if I was any good. Turned out I was. I got to play against some genuine idols like Filiph Svensson and Oleg Klassen, not disgracing myself and finishing ninth. When I got back to my parents house that night, I gave my mum a hug and cried. I hadn’t switched off all week and when I let my guard down, the emotions came.
A few months later, a course opened up near me in Peterborough. They have been about as close as I have got to a sponsor, letting me play and train for free anytime I wanted. I enjoy practicing while wearing the Great Britain top at Peterborough, showing the public that it can be more than one hour out of their lives with the kids. On the tour, I was starting to challenge more regularly but hadn’t had the breakthrough event. That came back in Worthing at the 2016 Masters as I went head to head with the very person I had shared a couple of rounds with three years earlier. Despite beating the previous tournament record by seven shots, I still had to take my hat off to Michael Smith. I had arrived. The rest of the year was incredible. I played abroad for the first time, travelling to Portugal for the Nations Cup and Kosovo for the WAGM. I won my first title, the British Doubles, with Nuno Cunha. Life was certainly surreal. I wanted to get more involved. I tried to get on the executive committee twice, my colleagues thought differently. Luckily, Richard Gottfried introduced me to a different channel. Minigolfnews. Writing about a passion is not unfamiliar to me as I wrote for a basketball fanzine back in the nineties. I became a blogger and interviewer.
Last year had me at a level where I was getting disappointed if I wasn’t excelling. Two new overseas destinations, Ireland and the Czech Republic, meant that for the first time in my life, every part of my holiday entitlement was put towards minigolf. I finally won a solo event, the Planet Hastings title. I should have won more. I led the World Crazies for five rounds. I had pipe trouble in Worthing. I had platform trouble in Cardiff. I had an anxiety attack in Nottingham. I see minigolf now in different categories. This is what I do for fun and it is a fantastic way to meet like minded people. It’s never been about prizes, most tournaments we play, the top purse doesn’t even cover expenses. Mentally, I do struggle to maintain full focus and without doubt, minigolf does contribute to my anxiety, something which I am trying to manage and I have had help with. Competitively, minigolf is a project. I enjoy the fastidious and mechanical approach to practice I’ve developed. Overall, I can’t imagine not having minigolf in my life now with the people I class as friends now and the places I have seen.
Five years on, I celebrated my anniversary by playing this morning in Peterborough. They let me take one of the flags as a present. I love how minigolf can make problems disappear through the idyllic medium of a putter, ball and course. I look back and laugh about how I discovered the sport by a beautiful alcoholic accident, a story which I once told live on radio. I am fortunate that I have the time and support of my work and family that I continue to get to a course with joy in myself that for a short time, everything is good in my life. Thank you, minigolf and the adventures you have taken me on.